Though uneventful, slugging Conforto enjoys return to defense

March 10th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- One hour and 15 minutes before first pitch, was already dressed in full uniform in the Giants’ clubhouse, eagerly anticipating his long-awaited return to the outfield. It’d been 17 months since he’d last played the field, and he was chomping at the bit to finally get back out there and “feel like a real ballplayer again.”

Conforto is officially an outfielder again after logging six innings in right in the Giants’ 5-2 win over the Brewers on Thursday afternoon at Scottsdale Stadium, but he’ll have to wait a little longer to actually make a play.

Much to his disappointment, Conforto didn’t have a single ball hit to him, but he continued to deliver at the plate, blasting a leadoff home run off Brewers right-hander Freddy Peralta in the first inning to collect his third home run in as many games.

“I had pretty good seats to watch the game,” Conforto quipped. “I was itching to get a fly ball, a ground ball. But it’s good to go out there and just kind of put myself through some situations. … It’s like riding a bike, getting back out there, but I’m still waiting to make my first play out there. Next time.”

Despite his lack of action in the outfield, Conforto still viewed Thursday as an important milestone on his long road back from right shoulder surgery, which forced him to miss the entire 2022 campaign. Conforto, who joined San Francisco on a two-year, $36 million deal over the offseason, made his first five Cactus League starts at designated hitter, but he said he feels his arm strength now that he’s gone through a full throwing progression.

The 30-year-old will probably stay away from diving and making full-throttle throws for his first couple of games, but he fully expects to be ready to start in either left or right field once the regular season gets underway later this month.

“Arm strength is there,” Conforto said. “If anything, the thing that still needs to come back is just stamina. When I go out and I throw to bases, I get pretty tired by the end of it. I never used to get tired. We’re not even a year out yet from surgery. April 20 is a year. We’re just kind of keeping working to get to the point where I’m just focusing on being a ballplayer and not worried about the shoulder.”

Conforto’s shoulder rehab clearly isn’t affecting him at the plate, as he’s now hitting .313 (5-for-16) with a team-high three homers and five RBIs through six exhibition games with the Giants.

“I feel like I’m starting to feel more like myself a little bit,” Conforto said. “Seeing the ball a lot better. We made a little mechanical adjustment to get my hands ready when my front foot gets down and it seemed to kind of clear up the issue I was having with getting on time and seeing the ball and making the decision a little bit later.

“It felt like I was making my decision super early, early on in spring, so we just kind of did a little dive on that and found that my hands were coming down with me a little bit. Just keeping the hands up, just trying to be on time for the best fastball and really see it deep.”

Worth noting

started a Minor League game at the Giants’ Papago Park Player Development Center on Thursday, striking out seven over three-plus scoreless innings. Webb didn’t allow a hit, walked one and threw 50 pitches in his third appearance of the spring.

• One of the most intriguing non-roster invitees in camp is , a former Yankees and Rangers first baseman who is attempting to reinvent himself as a two-way player with the Giants.

Guzmán, 28, has been taking batting practice with the club’s position players, but he’s primarily focusing on developing as a pitcher and delivered his most impressive relief outing to date against the Brewers.

Guzmán, who throws from the left side, struck out Eddie Alvarez and Skye Bolt looking on sliders before whiffing Jesse Winker on a 97 mph fastball to complete his 1-2-3 inning.

“That was a really cool performance,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think what makes it most interesting is how he comes in and executes his secondary pitches for strikes. It almost feels like he throws offspeed for strikes at will, which is pretty impressive for an inexperienced pitcher.

“I think a lot of the potential is his confidence. He came in the dugout after that. He was like, ‘That’s me. That’s me.’”